25 OctETHEL Plays in a Big Red Dress
By Mary Rowell
We ETHELs have performed in some unusual places. The Chicago Zoo. A sanitation plant. And now, in an immense red dress!
How to describe the goings-on in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, this past weekend? In a word, sumptuous.
ETHEL took part in the official re-opening concert for the city’s Muziekgebouw. We arrived for rehearsals at Philips Hall Thursday morning and were amazed to find a slight Korean woman standing in the folds of an enormous red dress that completely covered the auditorium’s concert stage. The woman was Aamu Song, the Helsinki-based designer who created the dress and the idea of the performance setting. In designing the dress, Aamu said she imagined a huge dress as the mother giving music to her children.
We spent Thursday evening and Friday coordinating the forces to pull off one of the most unusual concerts I have ever participated in. Besides ETHEL, there was a children’s choir; an adult choir; members of the Brabandt Orchestra the lutenist Isreal Golani; our fellow artist-in-residence, the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and German soprano Simone Kermes.
Simone actually wore the dress and the rest of us bedded down in the folds at her feet and in areas covering the rest of the stage. She was tucked into the dress and zipped in, and once inside could not leave her position until an assistant freed her. Simone was quite brave considering that it was, shall we say, very warm inside.
Positioning everyone in the dress and figuring out how to get in and out to perform involved some trial and error. Our director Matthijs Rümke, fresh from directing a production of “Richard III,” adeptly guided us through the positioning. He was very upbeat and genuinely tickled by the concept, as was everyone involved.
There was a little issue about what to do about music stands. It was decided that people would serve as music stands and each player had his or her very own living music stand.
Lyres were designed with a yoke so the “stands” could sit or kneel and the lyre would rest on their shoulders to position the music at the proper height. My stand’s name was Marika. She is an avid soccer player and she also teaches French to autistic kids. Pretty cool.
Once we worked out these details, it was time for the first performance. This brought another complication, since audience members were invited to view the show from inside the dress. It gave new meaning to the phrase “on your toes,” because those of us who performed in different positions had to carefully step over all the bodies lying around.
Saturday was an “Open Day” at the Muziekgabouw, with short performances taking place throughout the day in various locations in the building. ETHEL did three performances with the Dutch pop singer Janne Schra, formerly of our old friends Room Eleven. Our location was the stage with the dress, so Janne performed in the dress with ETHEL at her feet.
We did several covers including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Fast Car,” Janne’s song “Swimmer,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Don’t Give Up.” We ended with ETHEL playing “Kashmir” and Janne dancing the dress! The effect of her gyrating in the dress was amazing. She even convinced the bedded-down audience to make a wave.
As I was watching the rehearsal from my dress bed and seeing folks get in and out and in and out again, the scene reminded me of kids in kindergarten playing floor games and rolling around. It was interesting to think that we all were going to be playing an important opening concert and the mood was so light and fun-not the typical worry and fretting.
We were all lying together on the stage and listening to the performances, we weren’t playing ourselves. It felt more like sitting around a campfire and singing and sharing stories. The kids in the choir were giggly and smiling, as were the other performers, the living music stands, and the participating audience. When it came time to perform, each performer arose at the appropriate time to play or sing, while those who were not performing positioned themselves to listen and watch. It was at once elegant and homey.
Eindhoven–and the Red Dress–was the culmination of our tour. We started in Russia where we performed in four cities: St Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, Kaliningrad, and Moscow. We had a delightful stay in Russia.
The audiences were enthusiastic and we felt very appreciated. There were wonderful posters for the concerts in each venue and the folks we met were wonderfully friendly and kind. Our driver, Vladimir, didn’t speak English but we were able to communicate when we needed a restroom and such on our very long trip to Petrozavodsk. He was so sweet: When he picked us up for the trip he brought us a bag of apples picked from his yard.
Moscow was a 24-hour whirlwind. The city was the last stop of our tour in Russia before heading to Holland. I did not recognize Moscow from when I had last visited, before Gorby was kicked out. Today Moscow is a bustling big city packed with too many cars and people. But it was nice to see stores with things to sell, unlike my previous visit when most stores were closed and those that were open had long lines of people waiting to buy the one item in stock.
Enschede is a lovely town in the east of Holland. We did two performances of JacobTV’s music at the Grenswerk Festival and then spent a couple of days coaching groups from the conservatory where Jacob is composer in residence. The students were enthusiastic, talented, and receptive to our insights.
We stopped off in Utrecht to meet up with Colin Kyteman and check out his new musicians collective, Kytopia. What an awesome guy. He had just received an Edison and the mayor of Utrecht sent him a cake that arrived while we were there. They are cutting funding to the arts in Holland, but there is no shortage of cake.
It was a great trip and I hope you enjoy the pictures!